I have already provided a brief scenario of the convoluted politics surrounding the release of the DG recording of the 2011 Ring from Vienna under Thielemann in my review of the set. In its on/off release was a source of speculation-generally that either Franz Welser-Most had vetoed it in his capacity as Music Director, or that Thielemann had vetoed because it had too many flaws. Even Austrian Radio was reluctant to broadcast it! Both camps strenuously denied the rumours, and as we know it did finally appear, deeply flawed but with its strengths too. Hot on its heels, we now have a taster from Orfeo of FWM's 2007 performance of what was then a new production-and what a fizzing, exciting account of Walkure Act One it is! It was his conducting of this cycle that in no small way contributed to his "coming up on the rails" to succeed the ailing Ozawa whose flaccid tenure was coming to an end, when Thielemann had been the favourite. On this brief snapshot, one can see why. The recorded sound, re-mastered from DDD Austrian Radio Master Tapes is superb-actually preferable to that by DG in that it is more sense of air, more sheen and provides a more accurate impression of what its like to be in the house. FWM proves yet again to be a highly accomplished Wagnerian. In this act he conducts with the luminosity of Karajan-some of the chamber-like effects are breathtaking-but with the drive and energy of Leinsdorf. This is no mean feat! The opening prelude whips along at a pace Usain Bolt would find difficult to sustain, and he never allows the music to stagnate, while shaping it exquisitely. The orchestra play with absolute assurety, ravishing tone and tremendous weight when FWM allows it. The deep brass-bass trombone and tuba-growl with a real snarl, and the high brass in the sword motif are thrilling-and impeccable. The strings and woodwind are ravishing, and there is great detail revealed in the recording. Playing, conducting and recording are a triumph! The singing, if not quite the best we've ever heard, is the best for a long time where Kaufmann is not involved! Johan Botha's debut here as Siegmund is a major success. His open throated clear voiced Siegmund is streets ahead of Ventris in this role, and he just lacks the last vestige of darker baritonal quality in his voice to be ideal. His lyrical singing is beautifully mellifluous, his cries of Wälse are thrilling enough, and though one can hear him winding himself up to sustain the final "Wälsungeblut", he brings it off magnificently. Ain Anger is a dark, firmed voice Hunding who starts off brooding and quietly menacing and builds up to become an imposing threat indeed. He doesn't quite match the power and menace of Frick or Salminen, but it is a very fine assumption. The main focus for the promotion of this disc is Nina Stemme's debut as Sieglinde. In 2007 she was at her peak of course, so I had hoped her Sieglinde would be excellent. It's not excellent-it's utterly superb! Like Varnay on the second cycle recording of the Keilberth Ring, this Sieglinde is no down-trodden victim waiting for rescue. This is a Sieglinde simmering with restrained passion, disdainful of the husband forced upon her, and radiant of emotion when she recognises the true object of her desires in Siegmund. There is no more assured Sieglinde on record-Stemme does not have the limpid beauty of Crespin or Janowitz, but she compensates for this with truly thrilling passionate singing in an interpretation that is worth the cost of the set alone! The presentation is beautiful, other than a photograph of FWM that makes him look like a nerd with no friends-and of course, in true Orfeo fashion, there is no libretto. However, I cannot imagine that this disc will be bought by anyone other than those who already have a libretto or 10! Its release poses some questions-where's the rest of it? Why release only this tantalising snippet? We may one day get to learn of the politics-Vienna strikes again! I'm happy to assert that it's the best Walkure Act One since the era of Solti, Bohm and Karajan- Gergiev and Kaufmann notwithstanding, as it is so much better played and conducted. Fans of any of these artists need not hesitate-and diehard Wagnerians are in for a treat- but it is cruelly tantalising. So much better than Thielemann! 5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
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